WORLD WAR II MERCHANT MARINE VETERAN RECEIVES CONVOY MEDALLION


Left to Right, front: Mrs. Pierson, George Pierson, Back Fr. Gary Drinkwater, Capt. Monroe

On October 1st the Convoy Cup Foundation representing chapters in Canada, Norway and the United States presented the Convoy Cup Foundation Medallion to U.S. Merchant Marine Veteran Harry G. Pierson of Scarborough, Maine. The Medallion was presented to Mr. Pierson in recognition and appreciation of his service at sea on the Convoys during the Second World War. Mr. Pierson was an engineering officer and served on U.S. Merchant Ships in all positions from 4th Assistant Engineer to 2nd Assistant Engineer from 1943 to 1946. He received his initial training at Fort Trumbull and served on vessels in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. The presentation will be made by members of US Merchant Marine Veterans of WWII, Arctic Campaign Memorial Trust and the International Association of Maritime and Port Executives. Mr. Pierson, who is 100 years old, received the award at the home of his daughter in Scarborough which was presented by Capt. Jeffrey Monroe, Arctic Campaign Memorial Association Chaplain, and the Rev. Gary Drinkwater, Port and Maritime Chaplain, Anglican Church in America. In addition to the medallion and certificate, Mr. Pierson was presented with a letter from Senator Angus King of Maine who has been a champion in Congress for Veterans issues.


During World War II, nearly 250,000 civilian merchant mariners in support of the U.S. military and delivered supplies and armed forces personnel by ship to foreign countries engulfed in the war. There were 243,000 mariners that served in the war. And 9,521 perished while serving—a higher proportion of those killed than any other branch of the U.S. military. Roughly four percent of those who served were killed, a higher casualty rate than that of any of the American military services during World War II. There were 733 Merchant Marine ships sunk due to enemy attacks, and the Japanese captured 609 mariners as prisoners of war. The Germans and Japanese sank six ships manned by the Merchant Marine in 1941 before Pearl Harbor, making mariners some of the first American casualties of the growing global conflict.


Mariners risked their lives supplying the various branches of the armed forces and joint operations with the tools needed to win the war. But their “behind-the-scenes” logistical work, public misunderstanding over their service status, and rumors of their demands for labor rights contributed to mariners failing to receive their much-earned recognition for their courage through GI Bill benefits. Americans might know little of the contributions of the U.S. Merchant Marine. They are civilian sailors who operate ships carrying commercial goods to worldwide ports. During wartime or a national emergency, the U.S. military can call the merchant mariners into service to transport personnel and supplies to wartime theaters.


In 1988, the mariners became eligible for benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs. In 2020, Congress passed the Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act to recognize the merchant mariners for their courage and contributions during the war. The Congressional Gold Medal was presented to Mr. Pierson earlier.


President Franklin D. Roosevelt called their mission “the most difficult and dangerous transportation job ever undertaken”. In recognition of their service during World War II, the United Kingdom and Russia presented the National Memorial to the United States. It was placed in Portland, Maine, last port of departure for merchant ships in the Atlantic Campaign. In addition, many of the Liberty Ships put into service during the war were built in South Portland. Many mariners from the US Merchant Marine Academy and State Maritime Schools including Maine Maritime Academy served and perished during the war.